The onset of 2018 brought its own set of disruptions that upset society’s normally peaceful façade. With such disorder came a surge of change that has yet to show any signs of slowing. Among these controversial conversations were political talks centred around a push for equality of all kinds – equality for racial minorities, for women, for the LGBT+ community. While none of these topics have emerged as novelty ideas, previously unfamiliar to humanity, their importance has been widely disregarded throughout history by people in positions of power. Politicians, the media, and the big businesses alike have turned a blind eye to the most marginalized groups in society; yet, as this new era dawns, many are determined to give prominence to those whose lives are too often neglected.
Responsible for attracting the attention of millions worldwide, the entertainment industry is commonly accused of instigating these injustices. Their most recent mishap has stirred plenty of backlash, most of which is directed towards A-list actress Scarlett Johansson for her role in the upcoming movie, Rub & Tug. Johansson, a straight white woman, was cast to play a transgender man in this film that is “based on the real-life story of Dante ‘Tex’ Gill, who ran a string of massage parlors that were fronts for prostitution dens in the 1970s and ’80s.” People were quick to comment on the irony of this production choice, expressing frustration over the reality of transgender inequality.
While Scarlett Johansson has no shortage of onscreen talent, casting her as a transgender man dilutes the potential for diversity that Hollywood so desperately needs. As has been the case throughout history, marginalized groups are silenced in favor of those more privileged. This upcoming movie had the power to give a platform to a transgender actor whose voice is typically silenced by society; in failing to do so, the entertainment industry has missed a pivotal opportunity to alter their one-track narrative.
Transgender actress Trace Lysette publicized her opinion on the matter on Twitter. She wrote:
Lysette brings up an interesting point: shouldn’t transgender people, the ones who have truly lived through these experiences, be the ones in charge of telling their own story? After being continuously denied opportunities, discriminated against, and judged for expressing who they truly are, they see no benefits in the end. With socially advantaged people at the forefront of films that depict the everyday struggles of minority groups, they profit off of stories that do not belong to them and further fuel this cycle of oppression.
In response to the media’s uproar, Johansson’s representative released a statement on her behalf, saying that any criticism “can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment.” This did anything but ease the already tense situation, as Johansson essentially turned the attention to Tambor, Leto, and Huffman, all of whom have played transgender characters while being cisgender themselves. Rather than utilizing this as an opportunity to shed light on an issue that demands attention, she attempted to distract the public eye away from herself, disregarding any responsibility or independent thought in the process.
This is not the first time Johansson has stirred controversy for her acting roles. Last year, her name once again made headlines after it was announced that she would star in Ghost in the Shell. Its director, Rupert Sanders, also appears as the director of Rug & Tug. This movie, based on a Japanese comic series, placed Johansson in a role that was originally intended to be played by a Japanese actress. Many voiced their disappointment at the blatant lack of diversity in the movie industry as roles meant for marginalized groups are too often filled by people of privilege.
A white-washed film culture leaves little room for true creativity. Whether Scarlett Johansson wants to acknowledge it or not, 2018 holds no room for such prejudice. Society has made undeniable strides towards achieving equal rights, but casting decisions like those made in Rub & Tug remind us that there is still so much more to accomplish. The National Transgender Discrimination Survey revealed that forty-one percent of transgender people have attempted suicide. With 1.4 million adults in the United States identifying as transgender, this community’s need for greater awareness can no longer be ignored. Such a pressing issue is not confined to the entertainment industry, but to all corners of society.
As Mr. Tambor addressed in his 2016 Emmy acceptance speech, “Please give transgender talent a chance. Give them auditions. Give them their story.”